(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)
Welcome to May! You survived April! Well, unless you had Corey Seager that is. In that case, my deepest fantasy condolences.Here’s a smorgasbord of a few players making a big splash and a few that have been quietly productive under the radar, and a few guys that I stumbled upon unexpectedly that deserved a closer look. Maybe it’s because this week’s forecast calls for great swimming weather, but this week’s edition is particularly deep dive-y, so don’t forget your scuba gear.
Ronald Acuña (OF, Atlanta Braves) – Look, there’s really not much to say here, as in most leagues, he was already drafted and held, unless your league is full of people who only book plane and hotel tickets the day of and they never could’ve seen this call-up coming. Yet he’s still among ESPN’s most added players, though of course, by now, you’re probably already too late to get him. That’s because he’s hitting the ground running with a .421 AVG., a homer and a stolen base already in just a handful of games, and any doubts about an adjustment period are fading fast. With his monumental upside, he’s a must-add in all formats, as he can win you back the money you squandered on last-minute flight reservations.
Franchy Cordero (OF, San Diego Padres) – I am mostly writing him up to show off my new nickname for him: The Franch Friar. While you may think his .254/.306/.552 slash is due to luck, it’s actually nearly identical to his xSlash, which suggests he may not be a Keon Broxton-esque batting average liability as some fear. The 23-year-old’s raw power is apparent just from watching him, but the added factor of 15-20 stolen base ability this year in addition is what really makes the total package so intriguing. So scoop him up in all 12-team formats and consider streaming or stashing in shallower 10-team formats, as we watch the Franch Frier crank out some tater trots. Yeah, you can tell I’m pretty proud of this one.
Pedro Alvarez (DH, Baltimore Orioles) – He’s back from the grave! Okay he’s still only 31 but it feels like eons since he’s been fantasy-relevant. But he’s seizing on the opportunity by a rejected Crush (Davis), with 6 dingers and a ..237/.357/576 in just 74 PA, with a career-best 14.9% BB% and 24.3% K%, which may be slightly fluky but helped by an improved O-Swing% of 27%.. But the real driver to his value his his spiked FB% which he’s brought up to 55% with great 98.9 mph FB/LD eV and 11.4% Barrel%. xStats actually believes he’s gotten unlucky, with an xSlash of .277/.391/.614. It’s still not at all too late for Alvarez to finally take advantage of Camden like many forecasted a few years ago, and I’d be pouncing on the power upside in 15-team and 12-team formats, especially with the prospect of him being an OBP asset as well. If he keeps this up and gains eligibility at 1st and/or 3B, he’ll be viable in 10-team OBP as well, so watch closely, but I know I’m voting for Pedro.
Francisco Cervelli (C, Pittsburgh Pirates) – All the people who made fun of him being weak are finally getting Cerved. In just one month he’s already hit 4 taters with a .308/..391/.564 slash, which is more than halfway to his career-best mark of 7 back in 2015, and it seems legit. While he’s improved his exit velocity from bad to average with a top-100 90.6 mph Avg eV right above Paul Goldschmidt, the real change is his groundball rate, which went from 52.3% in 2017 to just 34.3% in 2018, with his FB% going from 27.1% to 49.3%, with a career-best 37.3% Hard%. xStats acknowledges some good luck but also believes the power, with an xSlash of .287/.384/.510 mark, which is still way over 100 SLG% points better than his career best. At this point he should be added in all 15-team as well as 12-team formats, and you’ll feel Cervelli good about it.
Brandon Belt (1B, San Francisco Giants) – After not once, not twice, not thrice, not…frice? times of dreaming on a breakout, Belt has finally tightened his game up a notch, He’s on pace to finally crack the elusive 20 HR plateau, and he’s one of the few first baseman who is good enough to still have a job despite never reaching that mark. He’s hitting .302 with 6 HR and a stolen base, and aside from the power, not much has changed about his game.He’s accomplishing this by the ever-popular trick of a career-high FB% of 49%, and it’s promising that he’s managed to do this with a 12.8% Barrel% that’s 11th best in the league, while keeping a low 6.7% IFFB%. xStats still expects regression, especially in the AVG department, but does give him a .540 xSLG% (.581 SLG%) that’s still considerably above his career rates, so I think this is legit. While hitting .270 with 25 HR+ homers won’t singlehandedly win leagues, in OBP formats he’s a true waiver wire gem. In 12-team mixed and 10-team OBP formats, grab him and buckle up.
Daniel Robertson (2B/SS/3B, Tampa Bay Rays) – Not to be compared to another scrub Daniel Robertson who was last seen in Arizona, this Robertson saw that future ahead of him and turned things around. He revamped his swing this offseason to focus more on launch angle and rhythm, and he’s been groovin’ to the tune of a .333/.476/.561 line with 3 homers and 1 stolen base that’s been sneakily helpful in both AVG and OBP leagues. For those wondering if the bottom will fall out, his stingy 18.2% Chase rate and 31.7% Swing% indicate his high walk rate, while it won’t last near 20%, should be able to remain in double digits going forward. His xSlash of .311/.459/.513 suggests that while he’s benefited from good luck, the skill change is real, but pitchers may adjust to his pull-happy approach (51% Pull%) and tie him up outside more often. Still, it’s time to add the underrated youngster in all 15-team leagues and 12-team OBP formats, or 12-teamers where you need his positional versatility.
Joey Wendle (2B, Tampa Bay Rays) – Robertson and Wendle are 2 peas in a pod, if 2 peas had to fight to be the pod’s primary pea with the loser becoming the backup/utility pea. Wendle has not been gentle on the ball, with a robust .329/.390/.493 line that combined with Robertson has given the Rays a surprisingly tenacious offense. xStats is bearish on Wendle’s hot start, with a xSlash of .260/.329./.381 that suggests he may not be legit as he seems, and while unlike Robertson, he’s hit hard to all fields, his 61% GB% really limits his power upside. Although I think his career-best walk rate of 8.5% will regress with a still-ugly 39% O-Swing%, his 97% Z-Contact indicates he could still be a high-floor batting average hitter for as long as he gets AB. He still should be added in AL-only and 18-team, but for 15-team leagues I’d only stream him as it suits your teams needs.
Nick Markakis (OF, Atlanta Braves) – Look, I didn’t want to have to write about Nick Markakis, on account of him being Nick Markakis. But here he is, finishing April with an average over .300, so here we go. Markakis has made a name for himself in recent years by being consistently underwhelming and boring, yet just solid enough to get at-bats, but this year he’s a bit more interesting. For one, the 34-year old is already halfway to his 2017 home run total (8) with 4. He also cut his K rate nearly in half, from 16.8% to 8.7% this year. But his chase and contact rates are right in line with his career marks, so that seems to be mostly a fluke. While xStats believes he’s mostly earned his AVG/OBP production to date with a .293/.397/429 xSlash, the power seems unlikely to last with a weak 3.2% Barrel%. But so long as he can maintain a .300 AVG and .375 OBP, he should be owned in 18-team and in deeper 15-team formats, and even has his uses in 12-teamers streaming for either AVG or OBP. Just don’t expect Markakis magic to continue or you can Markakis your championship run goodbye.
Chad Pinder (2B/SS/OF, Oakland Athletics) – Much like many profiles on the dating app with the same name, it’s hard to know on this one whether to swipe left or swipe right, it all depends on the angle. On the surface, Pinder is hitting .317/.378/.610 with 3 Home Runs in 45 PA. Team Swipe Left will point out his BABIP is a sky-high .476 and he has an ugly 4.4% Walk rate with a 37.8% K rate. They’ll also side with xStats’s extreme pessimism with a horrifying xSlash of just ..213/.283/.394 that suggests he’s a total fluke. However, Team Swipe Right will say his high K rate will positively regress as his 84.3% Z-Contact and 13.4% Swstr% are slightly better than his marks last year and suggest a hitter with a K rate under 30%. They’ll also point out that his Hard Hit Rate is an insane 70.8% Hard% (by far best in MLB among players with 40+ PA) and a 4.2% Soft%
(3rd-best in MLB) and a 93.5 avg eV (98.1 FB/LD eV) that’s top 25 in the majors. Like I always did with the app, I’ll give him benefit of the doubt because he could be a bomb-launching bombshell and that’s worth taking a shot on in 18-team and 15-team formats. As his playing time is still somewhat sporadic, I’m not ready to add him yet in 12-team formats but monitor him closely. Just don’t stalk him.
Luke Maile (C, Toronto Blue Jays) – Look, I know you probably think I’m making a joke here, suggesting a backup catcher. But remember how I just said Pinder has the 3rd-best Soft%? #1 is Ohtani, and #2 is Maile, who also has a 57.7% Hard% that’s 3rd-best in the league, right between Wil Myers and J.D. Martinez. That’s kind of crazy, since no one knows who the heck this guy is. I mean, he’s 27 with a career batting average below .200 prior to this year, and just 5 HR in 338 PA. But here he is, a catcher with a career-best 26.4% O-Swing and 90.4% Z-Contact%, which are both surprisingly solid considering his 50% Pull% suggests he must be selling out for power. Speaking of said power, his avg. eV of 95.0 mph is 10th best in the MLB, although he’s hitting his line drives (he currently is hitting a crazy 38.9% LD%) at too low and angle for home runs. Unlike Pinder, xStats is a fan, with an xSlash of .334/.399/.469 that’s very similar to his current line. In 18-team or 15-team 2-catcher formats, he’s worth a gamble, and worth streaming in 12-team 2-catcher formats or AL-only 1-catcher formats. The only problem is playing time, but with Russell Martin stinking (and xStats suggesting the stink isn’t just bad luck) I’m going for the hail Mary with air Maile.
Matt Carpenter (1B/2B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals) – It looks like Carp is getting ground up into a gefilte fish. Yeah I could’ve said something about him getting nailed but that seemed a bit too easy. But nothing’s been easy for Carpenter this year as his vulgar .155/.304/.274 slash would make your mother blush, if she knew what those numbers meant. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that his shoulder’s to blame, but I’m not quite ready to abandon ship. After all, his xSlash of .235/..369/.483 is much better, especially in the power department, and is pretty close to his ,246/.388/.466 xSlash from 2017. His exit velocity also seems solid with a 94 mph FB/LD eV and 8.6% Barrel%. I’d definitely still cut him in all 10-team formats and likely shallow 12-team AVG leagues, but I’m still inclined to wait a bit longer for him to right the ship in deeper 12-team or 12-team OBP formats.
Evan Gattis (C/1B, Houston Astros) – Evan has been anything but almighty. He’s gone from being as powerful as a gat to a squirt gun. He’s stinking it up with a career-worst Hard% of 26.2%, with an average eV of 87.5 mph and an awful 1.1% Barrel% that’s below Austin Jackson, just to give you an idea of how weak he’s been. He is whiffing less due to a reduced chase rate, but there’s a good reason he’s not swinging. Last year he had a punchless start and got super hot midseason, but right now Gattis is giving off strong Lucroy 2017 vibes and I don’t dig it. The waiver options may seem scant, but I think it’s time to take the plunge and cut him in 10-team and even 12-team formats.
Preston Tucker (OF, Atlanta Braves) – You can’t be surprised that Preston Tucker remembered that he was Preston Tucker. He had his little moment in the sun but Acuna is here and Tucker is likely to be nothing more than a bench bat or platoon bat at best, and aside from average power, not a particularly impactful one. You can safely cut him in 12-team and 15-team formats if you haven’t already, and probably in 18-team leagues as well provided there’s a decent regular on the wire.
Luis Valbuena – (3B/1B, Los Angeles Angels) – As I’m writing this, I know he hit a home run, and I really don’t care. His ownership dropped from 16.6% to 8.5%, and I think that’s still too high. The only useful thing he can do is hit homers, and even with the lowered wall, he’s not good enough at that to make up for how bad he is elsewhere. xStats has my back with an xSlash of .174/.204/.331, and if that didn’t make you throw up in your mouth at all, you should take the ipecac challenge since you may have something wrong with you. More like Valmala… that’s for those of you that were looking for a Spanish joke. Y’know, like 99% of all readers. Yep, that’s how I’m going out this week.
The gattis thing is crazy. He’s just stopped hitting and swinging and as someone who is heavily invested in a 2 catcher league it sucks a lot
Yeah he’s never exactly been an exit velocity darling, but his velo so bad this year, it makes me wonder if he’s trying to play through an injury. If you can’t pull yourself to cut him I’d at least get someone to start over him, even Maile, while he’s hitting like this, starting him will only hurt.
Hey Ben, thanks as always for the content. Do you see any red flags with Nelson Cruz? Power looks good, but OBP and average are down.
Hey just saw this so I’ll answer it now. No, I’m not concerned. In fact I’m all in. It’s true his swinging strike rate is higher this year, but he’s making more contact in the zone which should make up for it. He won’t hit .300 or anything but he should still be a bona fide fantasy stud.